The Life and Letters of St. Francis Xavier

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Introductory notes

The Life and Letters of St.Francis Xavier was published in 1881. It was written by Henry James Coleridge. It is a biography of the saint written in two volumes with an emphasis on the letters that he would write from various places. Henry James Coleridge was born in 1822.His grandfather’s brother was the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge. He himself was a man of religious affairs, a preacher and a writer. He passed away in 1893. Selections have been made from Volume 1 of The Life and Letters of St.Francis Xavier. Xavier’s journey to India is looked at as well as his travail to Rome. One gets to know of the saint’s views regarding what he saw in India. Primary Reading Coleridge,James,Henry, The Life and Letters of St.Francis Xavier, Burns and oates. Secondary Reading Tavernier,Jean Baptiste,Travels in India,Volume 1, Oxford University Press Tavernier,Jean Baptiste,Travels in India,Volume 2, Oxford University Press.


PUBLISHED BYBurns and Oates
[Page 109]

Voyage to India, and first labours at Goa.

THE missionary of our own time usually embarks for India or China at Southampton or Marseilles in a large, swift, and well-appointed steamer, and finds himself, after a short experience of the Bay of Biscay or of the Mediterranean, at Gibraltar or at Malta, and then after another short interval at Alexandria, whence he mounts the Nile to Cairo and reaches Suez by a few hours of railway travelling, to find another steamer waiting for him which carries him to India in the space of not more than a few weeks. He has little in common, as far as the dangers and sufferings of the voyage are concerned, with St. Francis Xavier and his two companions on their long and weary sail to the Indian coast from Lisbon. Although the ships which in the sixteenth century were used for distant navigation were huge in size as compared with the ordinary vessels of the time, they were slow, unsafe, and of small accommodation when contrasted with passenger steamers or clippers ofour own century, and, as they carried large freight in the way of merchandize and were also transports for soldiers, they were usually extremely crowded, with little space to spare, and the long time spent on board must always have been a period of suffering and confinement to all. The voyage from Lisbon to Goa generally lasted about six months, and was considered in itself as an enterprise of no common danger. We are told that the seas about the Cape were particularly dreaded, and that passengers ordinarily provided themselves with a windingsheet, that their bodies might be committed to the waves, in case of their death, with some [Page 110] appearance of Christian decency. Before the storms at the Cape, there were the terrible calms off the Guinea coast, and the scurvy, the peculiar scourge of long and confined sea passages, not to speak of the very possible accidents of shipwreck and the like, as well as some which we should consider imaginary, such as the poisonous showers which were said to fall under the torrid zone, and the huge sea monsters which roamed the Indian Ocean, and could easily send a vessel to the bottom with a single stroke of their tails. The ships, which were dispatched only once a year, were crowded with inmates, and sailed in company. They carried a wild and motley multitude —merchants, soldiers, adventurers of every sort, as well as Government officials and an occasional missionary, and we are not surprised to learn that the confinement, hardships, and privations of the seafaring life, the enforced idleness, the bad food, the close lodging, the fierce climate to be passed through, as well as the excitement of anticipated adventures, the hopes of riches or advancement, and the recklessness produced in wild natures by the near neighbourhood of danger from the sea or from some sudden disaster, not to speak of warfare, worked rather upon the bad elements in that strange society than on the good, and made it more irreligious than ever instead of more pious. The restraints of ordinary life were thrown off, and the license which was the condition of existence in India was too often anticipated on the voyage.

The company in which Francis Xavier and his two associates sailed was to some extent exceptional. The Governor was a thoroughly religious man, and the same may very likely have been the case with many of the officers ; but we cannot expect the crew, the soldiers, and the adventurers, as a rule, to have been above the average. Francis was entirely in a new sphere. Hitherto he had lived either with students like himself, before he joined Ignatius, or with his own religious brethren. Even in the Court of Portugal he could have seen but little of [Page 111] the rough selfish greed and brutal vice which so often characterize the class of men who seek their fortunes in a new world after having failed at home, and if he had known the lower strata of humanity as an active preacher and confessor in Italy, and in the prisons and hospitals which he had always made it his business to frequent, at least he had never been brought into that close contact with rude boisterous license of every kind which was inevitable to him now that he was cooped up for a six months' voyage within the planks of a galleon with nine hundred or more of his fellowbeings, whose reasons for the long and dangerous voyage which made them his companions were so very different from those by which he was moved. He was of a refined, delicate, even haughty, nature, and we see in his earlier letters some traces of what might be thought to have been severity of judgment as to even the ordinary secular life, if it were not so evidently the fruit of his own intense conviction of the reality of the maxims of faith, perhaps also of the recollection of the struggle which it had once cost him to surrender himself to their guidance. We might have expected many men of the same character with St. Francis to shut themselves up in their cabin during the voyage, and hold as little intercourse as possible with the strange, wild, coarse, and violent world around them.

It was, however, on this voyage that Francis first began the practice of what has been called 'Apostolical conversation', which he afterwards never intermitted for the rest of his life wherever he had occasion for it. It had been, as we have said, the great weapon of Ignatius : it had been the means by which Francis himself had been won to the pursuit of the greater glory of God. It was practised with the most careful and prayerful study by Peter Favre, as we find from his own notes, and it now became one of the most successful instruments of the salvation and improvement of others in the hands of his dear friend and brother to whom the Indies had been committed as the field of his Apostolate. Many years later, a Portuguese gentleman happened to find himself in the same vessel with Francis. He had long been desirous of knowing him, on ac [Page 112] count of his great reputation for sanctity : on asking which he was, he was shown a person standing in a group of men round a table where a game of chess was going on. He was talking with the soldiers, the crew, the merchants' clerks, and others, of whom the crowd was made up, at his ease with all, and all at their ease with him. The gentleman was scandalized, and declared to a friend that the Padre Santo, as he was called, was just like any other priest. At the end of the voyage, however, he sent a servant to follow and see what became of him. Francis went aside into a wood and began to pray, and the servant soon ran to call his master to see the Saint in an ecstasy lifted from the ground in his prayers.

There was ample field for his zeal on board the ship in which he sailed—which carried, as we are told, very nearly a thousand persons. He mixed freely with all, especially with those who had most need of him—and it was soon found that he had won upon them so far that the habit of swearing was going out, and that many enmities had been made up. He began to hear confessions regularly and frequently. Under the Line the scurvy broke out so violently that it became a sort of plague : friends neglected friends, the sick were left to themselves, the medicine ran short, there was no one but Francis and his companions to tend the sufferers. Francis washed them and their linen, dressed their food, and fed them with his own hands. He had a little cabin of his own, but he gave it up to the sick. He had refused to take his meals at the Governor's table, but not to receive the daily portion of food which was sent him from it : this he divided among the sick. On Sundays he preached on deck, the Governor himself attending the sermon.

Francis himself appears to have suffered greatly from sickness in the first part of the voyage, which was lengthened beyond the usual time, probably by the calm which often detains vessels near the Equator. It was the custom of the Portuguese [Page 113] navigators to sail at a distance round the Cape, so far southwards as to reach a latitude where the cold was sensibly felt. The ship did not reach Mozambique till late in August, at a time when under ordinary circumstances it would have been approaching Goa; and the lateness of the season as well as the prevalence of sickness determined the Governor to winter in the island. The letter which we are about to insert gives some account of the island, and of the number of sick in the hospital where Francis took up his quarters. He makes no mention, however, of his own sufferings from a violent fever, which we learn from the testimony of others. He would not accept of the better lodging and care which were offered to him by many of the Portuguese inhabitants, and took his chance with the rest of the sick in the hospital. Indeed, the physician found him, in the height of his fever, visiting and instructing the others. On one occasion when he was ordered to bed, he is said to have answered humbly that he was anxious about the case of one, who had not made his peace with God, and that as soon as he had attended him, he would take rest himself. It was a poor sailor whom fever had already made delirious, and of whose recovery little hope could be entertained. Francis had him conveyed from the ship to his own bed : the next day the man was sensible enough to make his confession; but he died at night, after having received the sacraments, full of confidence in God. Francis then consented to be nursed himself, and was soon able to resume his usual labours. Another anecdote of his stay at Mozambique has been preserved to us. While he was attending the sick in the hospital, news was brought him of the sudden death of a boy who had sailed in the Governor's ship with him. Xavier asked whether he had attended the Christian doctrine—as the teaching of the Catechism is called amang Catholics. He was filled with grief and self reproach when he was told that the boy had apparently never had any instruction, and laid the Governor, who strove to console him by saying that as he had never [Page 114] known of the lad's ignorant state he could not be responsible for it, that the simple fact that there should be any one in the same ship with him in need of instruction without his knowing it was a reproach to him.

We may leave the further details of the voyage to India to be gathered from the following letter, written from Goa some months after his arrival at that city.

2. (x.) To the Society at Rome.

May the grace and love of Jesus Christ our Lord always help and favour us ! Amen.

When on the point of sailing from Lisbon with Father Paul and Francis Mancias, I wrote to you a long letter about our voyage to India. And now, as you asked me to let you know of our arrival in India as soon as I should have leisure to do so, I send you this account of our voyage. We left Lisbon on the 7th April 1541, and reached India the 6th May of this the following year, having thus spent a year and more in the voyage, which is generally made in about six months. We sailed in the same vessel with the Governor, who treated us the whole time with great consideration : and we had all of us fair enough health. All the time there was no lack of confessions to hear, either of the sick, or others, and we never missed preaching on the Sundays. I count it a great favour from God that, while I was passing over the realm of fishes, I found men to whom to announce the Divine mysteries and to administer the sacrament of penance, quite as necessary on sea as on land.

In the course of the voyage we touched at an island called Mozambique, where we wintered for six months, together with the whole multitude of persons belonging to five large vessels. There are two cities in the island, one garrisoned by the Por [Page 115] tuguese, the other occupied by friendly Mussulmans. While we were wintering there a great number of persons fell ill, and as many as eighty died. We quartered ourselves in the hospital all the time, employing ourselves in the service of the sick. Father Paul and Mancias waited on their bodily necessities, I attended to their souls also, hearing confessions continually and giving communion, but, alone as I was, I could not do all that was wanted for them. On Sundays I preached to a very large audience, as the Governor himself attended : and I was also often called away to hear confessions elsewhere. So that all the time we were at Mozambique we had always plenty to do. The Governor, his suite, and all the soldiers showed us great courtesy, and by the favour of God we spent those six months greatly to the satisfaction of all and with much spiritual profit.

Mozambique is about 900 leagues distant from India. The Governor was desirous of pursuing his voyage as soon as possible, but owing to the season there were still a great number of persons ill. So he asked that some of us might remain in the island to help the sick who were to be left there, and who could not at once continue the voyage on account of their health. As he thought it best, Father Paul and Mancias remained. I accompanied the Governor, who was himself by no means well, that I might hear his confession, in case his malady got worse and led to anything more serious. So it is now some time since I reached India in his company, and I am now daily expecting my companions by the vessels which generally arrive from Mozambique in September. We are now in the fifth month since we arrived at Goa, the capital of India. It is a fine-looking city, entirely in the hands of Christians. It has a convent of Franciscans, really very numerous, a magnificent cathedral with a large number of canons, and several other churches. There is good reason for thanking God that the Christian religion flourishes so much in this distant land in the midst of heathen.

Our voyage from Mozambique to Goa lasted two months and more. We stopped ior a few days at Melinda, a port in [Page 116] habited by Mussulmans who are friendly to the Portuguese, of whom there are some there, chiefly merchants. If any of them happen to end their days there, they are buried in large mounds, which are to be seen here and there with crosses over them which mark them out. The Portuguese have erected near the city a large and very handsome stone cross, which is gilt all over. I cannot express to you what joy I felt in looking at it. It seemed like the might of the Cross appearing victorious in the midst of the dominion of the unbelievers.

The King of Melinda came on board our ship to compliment the Governor, and received him with kindness and friendliness. While I was at Melinda we celebrated the funeral of a man who had died on board our ship, and we had the full service for him, much to the approval of the Mussulmans, who admired our funeral ceremonies very much.

One of the principal Mahometan inhabitants of the city asked me whether our temples in which we go to pray were generally filled with Christian people, and how fervid and diligent Christians were in worshipping Christ ; for, said he, all piety had long ago grown cold among his own people, and he wished to know whether the same was usual among Christian men. There were seventeen mosques at Melinda, but three only were attended and even those by very few. The good man was quite perplexed, and knew not what to make of it, having no idea how it was that his own people had lost all religion. He said it could only be on account of some great sin of their own. We had a great deal of conversation about this, and I told him that God, most Faithful and True, held the misbelievers and their prayers in abomination, and so willed that their worship, which He rejected altogether, should come to nought. My friend, who had very difterent notions fronx mine, was not satisfied, with this, and then a Sara [...]en Caciz [Page 117] a Caciz is a teacher of the Mahometan law—came up, a man of very eminent learning, and he declared that if Mahomet did not appear again on earth to visit them within two years, he himself should renounce that religion. One sees in such cases in what anxiety and despair the life of unbelievers and wicked men is so often passed : and indeed this in itself is a blessing sent them by God, that they may be thereby warned of their state and led to conversion.

After sailing from Melinda we touched at Socotra, an island about a hundred miles in circumference. It is a wild country with no produce, no corn, no rice, no millet, no wine, no fruit trees : in short, altogether sterile and arid, except that it has plenty of dates, out of which they make bread, and also abounds ih cattle. The island is exposed to great heat from the sun ; the people are Christian in name rather than in reality, wonderfully ignorant and rude : they cannot read or write. They [Page 118] have consequently no records of any kind. Still they pride themselves on being Christians. They have churches, crosses, and lamps. Each village has its Caciz, who answers to the Parish Priest. These Caciz know no more of reading or writing than the rest; they have not even any books, and only know a few prayers by heart. They go to their churches four times a day—at midnight, at daybreak, in the afternoon, and in the evening. They use no bells ; but wooden rattles, such as we use during Holy Week, serve to call the people together. Not even the Caciz themselves understand the prayers which they recite : which are in a foreign language (I think Chaldean). They render special honours to the Apostle St. Thomas, claiming to be descendants of the Christians begotten to Jesus Christ by that Apostle in these countries. In the prayers I have mentioned they often repeat a word which is like our alleluia. The Caciz never baptize any one, nor do they know the least what Baptism is. Whilst I was there I baptized a number of children, with the utmost goodwill of their parents. Most of them showed great eagerness to bring their children to me, and made such liberal offerings out of their poverty of what they had to give, that I should have been afraid to refuse the dates which they pressed upon me with such great goodwill. They also begged me over and over again to remain with them, promising that every single person in the island would be baptized. So I begged the Governor to let me remain where I found a harvest so ripe and ready to be gathered in. But as the island has no Portuguese garrison, and it is exposed to the ravages of the Mussulmans, the Governor would not hear of leaving me, fearing that I might be carried off as a slave. So he told me that I should soon be among other Christians who were not less, perhaps more, in need than the Socotrians of instruction and spiritual assistance, and amongst whom my work would be better spent.

One day I went to Vespers as recited by the Caciz ; they lasted an hour. There was no end to their repetitions of prayers and of incensations : the churches are always full of [Page 119] incense. Though their Caciz have wives, they are extremely strict in regard to abstinence and fasting. When they fast they abstain not only from flesh meat and milk, but from fish also, of which they have a great supply. So strict is their rule that they would rather die than taste anything ot the kind. They eat nothing but vegetables and palm dates. They have two Lents, during which they fast; one ol these lasts two months. If any one is profane enough to eat meat during that time, he is not allowed to enter the church.

In a village in the island there was a Mussulman woman the mother of two young children. Not knowing that their father was a Mussulman, I was going to give them baptism, when they ran off, all of a sudden, to their mother to complain that I was trying to baptize them. The mother came to say that she would never let me baptize her children. She was a Mahometan, and would never have her children made Christians. Upon this the people of Socotra began to cry out that the Mussulmans were unworthy of so great a blessing ; that they would not let them be baptized however much they desired it, and that they would never permit any Mussulman to become a Christian. Such is their hatred of Mussulmans.

We set sail from the island at the end of February, and the 6th of May, as I have told you, we arrived at Goa.

Here at Goa I live in the Hospital, administering to the sick the Sacraments of confession and communion. But, be [Page 120] sides the sick, such numbers of other persons want me to hear their confessions, that, if I could be in ten different places at once, I should never lack penitents. After attending to the sick, I gave my morning to hearing confessions : after midday I used to go to the prisons, and after giving the prisoners instructions as to making their confessions, I heard the confessions of their whole life. When I had got through this, I went to the Church of our Lady, which is near the Hospital, and there I began to teach the children—as many as three hundred were often present—their prayers, the Creed, and the Ten Commandments. Upon this the Bishop of Goa ordered the same to be done in the other churches, and it still continues to be practised. The fruits gained from it surpass all expectation, and have delighted the whole city.

Whilst I remained at our Lady's Church I used to preach in the morning on Sundays and holidays to the people promiscuously. In the afternoon I explained the articles of the Creed to the natives, and the crowd of hearers was so great that the church could hardly contain them. I afterwards taught them the Lord's Prayer, theHail Mary, the Apostles' Creed, and the Ten Commandments of the Law of God. On Sundays I used to say mass for the lepers, whose hospital is close to the city, heard their confessions, and gave them communion. There was not one of them who did not approach the sacraments : and after the first sermon I preached to them they were all devoted to me.

I am now setting out by the Governor's order for a country where there is reason to hope that many will become Christians. Three students from the same country go with me, two of whom are deacons, fairly acquainted with Portuguese, as well as with their native tongue : the third has only received minor orders. I am in good hopes that my labours there may produce precious fruits for our holy religion. As soon as Fathers Paul and Mancias arrive from Mozambique, the Governor has promised to send them to join me. The place I speak of is called Cape Comorin, six hundred miles distant from Goa. I pray God, that for the sake of your [Page 121] prayers, He may be pleased to forget my sins and to grant me all the grace I am in need of, that I may do Him good service in those parts.

All the sufferings of the long voyage, all the charge of bearing the sins of others while one has to bear the weight of his own, the having to live a long time together among unbelievers, and the extreme heat of the sun in this climate—all these trials, if borne as they ought to be borne for the love of God, turn out to be very great consolations and the subject of many and intense spiritual delights. I am perfectly persuaded in my own mind that the lovers of the Cross of our Lord Christ consider a life of trials of this sort a blessed life, and that to fly from or to be without the Cross is death to them. For can there be a more cruel death than to live without Jesus Christ, after having once known Him, or to forsake Him for the sake of following our own desires? I assure you, dear friends, no cross is to be compared to such a cross as that. On the other hand, how blessed it is to live dying a daily death, breaking our own wills, that we may seek, not what is our own, but what belongs to Jesus Christ !

And now, dearest brothers, I entreat and conjure you by God to write to me about every single member of our Society, that as I have no hope that I shall see them in this life, as St. Paul says, facie ad faciem I may at least see them per anigma, in a dark manner, that is by means of your letters. Unworthy as I am, do not refuse me this boon. Remember that God has made you such, that I have the right to expect great consolation from you, and to receive it. Give me diligent instructions what method I should pursue in dealing with the heathen and the Mussulmans to whom I am sent, for I look forward to learning from God, through what you write to me, how I am to make them Christians without difficulty, and I expect to come to see, from your instructions, and so to correct, any blunders I may commit while I am waiting to hear from you. Meanwhile I don't despair, that by the merits and prayers of our holy Mother Church, on which I rely greatly, and through the prayers of you and others her living members, our Lord [Page 122] Christ may deign to sow the seed of the Gospel by means of me, wicked servant though I am, in the land of the heathen, more especially since, as He uses so poor a creature as I am for so great a work, it will put to shame men who are born with capacities for great things, as well as be a spur to others of weak courage, when they see me who am but dust and ashes and the vilest of men made to bear witness from my own experience to the extreme scarcity which here exists of Apostolical labourers. Ah, how gladly would I make myself the slave during my whole life of any who would come out here and devote themselves to labour in the vineyard of the Lord of all!

And thus, then, I end my letter, imploring God, of His infinite mercy, to gather us all one day into that blessed joy of His for which we are made, and here in this life to increase our strength, so that we may labour in His service with the diligence which it deserves, and thus make ourselves entirely and altogether conformed unto His holy decrees and will [...]

It may here be remarked that this letter, which is a fair specimen of those which Francis Xavier wrote from time to time during the remaining years of his life to his friends in Europe, leaves out, as might be expected, the circumstances most to his own personal credit. It is hardly necessary to repeat that nothing else could have been expected, not only front a person of singular holiness, but even from a person of ordinary modesty and good sense, and that few things can be more absurd than to question the many personal details which have been added to our knowledge by the companions and friends of St. Francis, on the ground that he himself makes no mention of them. We may add, also, that his life, even on board ship, and much more when he was once launched on his missionary career in India, was a life of extraordinary labour and active occupation, and that it is really wonderful that he [Page 123] should have found time to write letters so long and so full in detail as many that remain to us, which, however, represent only a percentage of the whole number which he is known to have written.

Before we proceed further, a few words may be added as to his efforts in favour of the inhabitants of Socotra. We do not possess the letter which Francis Xavier wrote to the King of Portugal concerning these islanders, but we know that he represented their case so strongly, that a Portuguese fleet was ordered to call there on its way to India, and the island conquered from the Mussulmans. At a later period, Xavier sent some members of the Society to preach to the people.

It is not difficult to believe the deplorable accounts which are given us by the biographers of Xavier of the state of religion at Goa at the time of his arrival in that city. The circumstances of the case explain them and almost require them. The Portuguese were masters at Goa and in a number of other towns, chiefly along the coast, where their garrisons and factories were established, and the general supremacy of the Portuguese crown was recognized to a certain extent by many of the native Princes in the interior. Goa itself, the capital, was a city of much beauty and size, strong in its insular situation, possessing fine buildings and some handsome churches. But its population was a mixture of Portuguese, Mahometans, and native Indians. The Portuguese were comparatively new, though of course dominant, and a great number of them were adventurers of all sorts, merchants, soldiers, and the like, who had either left behind them in Europe, as it is too general for Europeans of all nations to leave behind them, even the semblance of outward religion and morality, or who had at all events become utterly corrupted by the temptations ot their new position and the vices ot their Mussulman neighbours, the influence of the climate, and the ease with which the Asiatics under their dominion lent themselves to be the instruments and victims of their profligacy. We shall find in the course of [Page 124] the narrative of the life of St. Francis many instances of highly religious officers and merchants, men really desirous of advancing the glory of God and the spiritual welfare of the native population, and willing to put themselves to great expenses and to incur severe dangers, for the purpose of aiding the Apostle in his works of charity and zeal. But the majority of the Portuguese, even after the reform introduced by him, and much more before that time, seem to have been such in their lives and conduct as to merit the severe language in which many writers speak of them. The Mussulmans, and some of the native heathens, were rich and powerful, important to the Portuguese Government on account of their numbers, influence, and the commerce which was kept up through them, and they made no pretence of hiding their religions or desisting from their most abominable practices even in Goa itself. The lower and poorer orders among them were even oppressed and persecuted if they showed any inclination to adopt Christianity, and indeed the lives of the majority of the Christians were such as to scandalize and revolt them. Many of the Portuguese led the most licentious lives, as too many of the European officers and officials in India do at the present time. Few Portuguese ladies could venture as far as India, and an almost recognised system of concubinage prevailed among the Europeans, who differed very little in this respect from the Mussulmans themselves. When marriages had been contracted the women had become Christians, but they were extremely ignorant of the religion which they had adopted, and their children were growing up almost entirely without instruction.

On the other hand, there were not wanting attempts at better things, which, however, had hitherto failed of success. The Bishop of Goa was an old Franciscan friar of the name of John Albuquerque, a good and holy man, but his jurisdiction was extremely extensive, embracing the whole of India and the Portuguese settlements in the East, and his activity was not equal to his piety and personal holiness. As a rule, the priests and religious to be found in Goa confined their labours [Page 125] to the Portuguese, and made few attempts at the conversion of the heathen. We must remember also, that in Europe itself, at the time of which we speak, the frequentation of the Sacraments had in many parts died out, and that, as we have mentioned above, even in Rome, it was strange to go often to Communion or for priests to preach except in Lent and Advent. A zealous Franciscan friar, Diego de Borba, a disciple of John of Avila, had been four years in Goa and had begun a good work in which he found many associates, for the benefit of the Indians. A College had been founded at Goa, through his exertions, in which a large number of native boys from all parts of India were educated, with the intention that they should ultimately become Priests for their own countries, or at least interpreters and catechists for other missionaries. The College was endowed with an annual revenue by the Government out of funds which were taken away from the idolatrous priests. We shall hear more of the College, which was then called the College of Santa Fe, and afterwards of St. Paul. There was also a flourishing 'Confraternity of Mercy', an institution to be found in most of the Portuguese settlements, devoted to works of active charity. These were elements of good among the Portuguese of Goa which only required the breath of Apostolic zeal to quicken them into life, and we read of no opposition offered to St. Francis when he began the work of reform.

On landing at Goa, he took up his abode, as usual, in the hospital—for a hospital answering, as we have already said, the purposes of 'poor house' as well, was sure to be found in every such city. He then went to the Bishop, and informed him of his mission from the Pope and the King—showing him his letters and faculties, including that which appointed him Apostolical Legate. At the same time he declared that he had no desire or intention of using the extraordinary powers conferred upon him, except so far as it seemed good and advisable to the Bishop himself. This absolute deference to the ordi [Page 126] nary ecclesiastical authority was a fixed principle with him during the whole of his missionary career, as it was also uniformly insisted upon by St. Ignatius in Europe. Francis adopted the principle not merely out of prudence, but in order that his work might have the blessing of obedience upon it as well as that of perfect union with the representatives of Divine authority in the Church.

We may also notice here, at the outset of his career in the East, other features of the method which he uniformly pursued, when it was possible, in the work of evangelizing the populations to whom he was sent. The practice of personal poverty, and of spending a large part of the night in prayer, while the day was given to active works of piety and charity, the devotion of his first care to those who most closely resembled our Lord in His suffering life, the sick, the lepers, and the prisoners, and a peculiar attention to the instruction of children and the most ignorant, are some of those features which are copied directly from the example and precepts of our Lord.

It is hardly necessary to add, that the good Bishop's heart was won at once by the humility and zeal of the new Apostle, and that from the first he became the fast friend of Francis. Indeed, the whole city was soon devoted to him, and in the space of five months a very great change for the better in matters of religion was the fruit of his labours. The particulars given in the letter last cited may serve as a summary of these happy results. A few details have been added by his biographers, gleaned from the memories of those who were at Goa at the time. The Governor, a pious and earnest man, as we have seen, took from Francis the custom of visiting the hospital and prison in person once a week, and this custom was afterwards recommended by the King to his successor. We are also told of Francis' manner of adapting himself to the character of the various persons, whom by private conversation he endeavoured to win to a more Christian life, sometimes admonishing them with the greatest gentleness and aftability, at other times putting the great truths of eternity, ot death, judg [Page 127] ment and hell before them in the strongest and most terrible language. In this way a great number were induced to make their confession after a long period of disorderly life, to break off unlawful connections, or to render them lawful by marriage, as well as to make due restitution of unjust gains. The peculiar position of the Portuguese in India made the first of these kinds of disorders the most difficult to remedy in the majority of cases. Turselline, the first and in some respects the best biographer of St. Francis Xavier, has summed up so happily the tradition of his manner of dealing with these cases, that we may give it here in his words instead of in our own. 'Xavier,' he says, 'thinking within himself that he ought to apply some remedy to this great evil, began to dispose them with all the endeavour he could use. And first he went about to win them by all courteous means ; then, as he met them in the streets, he would merely request them to invite a poor priest to their ordinary fare ; which they willingly accepted of. He now sitting at table would before, or at, their repast, entreat his host to cause his children to be called ; whereupon the little children coming presently at their father's call, Francis would take them up in his arms and hug them to his bosom, thanking God Who had given the father such children for the hope of his family, and withal would pray God to grant them a good and holy life. Then would he desire that their mother might be called (a thing which in another would have been temerity, but his sanctity easily excused it). When she was come, he would speak sweetly unto her, and commend her heartily to his host, thereby to draw him to take her to his wife, saying that doubtless she was of an excellent disposition and lovely countenance, so that she might well be accounted a Portuguese, that the children which he had by her were certainly worthy of a Portuguese to their father. Why therefore did he not marry her ? What wife could he have better ? And he should do well to provide with all speed for his children's credit and the woman's honesty.

' Which wholesome counsel of his proved not unprofitable. For by his words and authority without great difficulty he per [Page 128] suaded many of them to marry their mistresses, being himself witness thereof. But if by chance he lighted upon any one who had by some illfavoured Indian woman children like unto herself, then assuming great indignation thereat, he would cry out, Good God ! what a monster have we here ! Do you keep a devil in your house ? Can you keep company with this ugly beast? Can you have children by her? Follow my counsel: drive this monster, this prodigious creature, presently out of your house, and seek you a wife worthy of yourself. So in putting away his mistress, he married a wife.'

We may add, to complete the picture, what the same writer adds of another practice of Francis Xavier : ' He, thirsting more after the salvation of souls than his own praise, was always thinking of some new ways how to help them, for the performance whereof there was nothing which he would not do. And amongst the rest he had one invention which, in such a man as he, gave an admirable example of Christian simplicity, and was also more profitable in effect, than fair to show. He being a man of grave years and authority, went up and down the highways and streets with a little bell in his hand (so far was he from thinking anything disgraceful to him that might be grateful to God, and profitable for man's salvation) to call the children and servants together to Christian Doctrine, at the corners of the streets and crossways, sometimes stirring up the inhabitants to piety with these or suchlike words : "Faithful Christians,for the love which you hear to Christy send your children and servants to the Christian Doctrine." Which new invention made infinite numbers of children, slaves, and others to run flocking unto him from all places : all whom, he himself marching before, he would lead into our Blessed Lady's Church, singing aloud the Catechism unto them, and teaching them the same, thereby to cause them the more willingly to come and hear him, and so the more easily to remember what was taught them in the manner of singing—both which proved afterwards to be so. And herein he used no less prudence than diligence. For knowing very well that his labour would then be profitably employed, if those things which ought to [Page 129] be learned were well understood, all that he sung he would explicate largely and clearly, according to the capacity of his auditors.

' To the ruder sort and to slaves he would purposely speak after a rude and homely manner, that their own fashion of speech might keep them more attentive and make deeper impression in their minds—which endeavour of his was neither fruitless nor in vain. For from hence arose that so worthy a custom of teaching and learning the Christian Doctrine which is at this day practised in India. And because men reaped more fruit by it than was expected, the Bishop caused the same to be practised by others in the other churches, so as, advancing himself in this new piety, those of the Society following Francis' institution, others stirred up thereunto partly by the Bishop's command, and partly by the example of the Society, it came at last to be a custom throughout all India, to the great advancement of the Christian cause. For this practice so spread itself abroad both in Goa and in other places, that everywhere in the schools, highways, streets, houses, fields, and ships, there were instead of vain and idle songs, sung and heard the principles of Christian faith with great delight. Wherefore it grew to a custom that children who could scarce speak did strive to sing most of those verses by heart. And in this exercise Xavier gave no less noble proof of his temperance and moderation, than of his industrious labours. For of all that was given to him under the title of alms, he received nothing to himself, but gave all to the sick and poor in the most private manner he could, to the end that human praise might not deprive him of any reward in the sight of God.'

The work of teaching the Christian doctrine, or Catechism, to children and the ignorant was considered so essential by the first Fathers of the Society, that it had been proposed during their deliberations in Rome, when the form of the Institute was to be drawn up and submitted to the Pope, to join a clause relating to this duty to the fourth and distinctive vow of the Professed,—that, namely, which binds them to special [Page 130] obedience to the Pope as to any missions on which he may send them. This proposal was abandoned on account of the opposition of one only among the Fathers, Nicolas Bobadilla, but the fact shows the very high importance which Ignatius and his companions attached to the subject. Francis Xavier uniformly acted in the matter as if he had been bound by the proposed vow. The plan of setting the Christian doctrine to simple music, and teaching it in the way just mentioned by Turselline, was characteristic of his practical sense and joyous simplicity, and we find it specially mentioned as having been kept to throughout his career. In the Moluccas, the Processes tell us, he used to spend the day, after saying mass, in hearing confessions and teaching the rudiments of the faith to children and adults of both sexes in a church of our Lady, a great crowd attending his instructions ; and from this the custom became general of the natives singing the prayers of the Doctrine as they were carrying their wares on board ship, and at night in their houses, 'which thing,' it is said, 'greatly moved all hearts to devotion. And not only there, and in Amboyna, and at Cape Comorin, but everywhere else where he taught, his prayers and teaching sank into their hearts as if they had been taught them by the Apostles themselves ; and his Catechism was taught all over India, the children singing it as they went to and came from school; and in the streets at night the slaves and boys and girls as they passed about were heard to sing no other songs than his.' [...]

This is a selection from the original text


authority, charity, climate, danger, death, fever, food, meal, religion, ship, suffering, voyage

Source text

Title: The Life and Letters of St. Francis Xavier

Author: Henry James Coleridge

Publisher: Burns and Oates

Publication date: 1881

Original date(s) covered: 1540-1560

Edition: 1st Edition

Place of publication: London

Provenance/location: This text was transcribed from images available at Internet Archive: Original date(s) covered: 1540-1560

Digital edition

Original author(s): Henry James Coleridge

Language: English

Selection used:

  • 1 ) selections from Pages 109-30


Texts collected by: Ayesha Mukherjee, Amlan Das Gupta, Azarmi Dukht Safavi

Texts transcribed by: Muhammad Irshad Alam, Bonisha Bhattacharya, Arshdeep Singh Brar, Muhammad Ehteshamuddin, Kahkashan Khalil, Sarbajit Mitra

Texts encoded by: Bonisha Bhattacharya, Shreya Bose, Lucy Corley, Kinshuk Das, Bedbyas Datta, Arshdeep Singh Brar, Sarbajit Mitra, Josh Monk, Reesoom Pal

Encoding checking by: Hannah Petrie, Gary Stringer, Charlotte Tupman

Genre: India > non-fiction prose > travel narratives and reports

For more information about the project, contact Dr Ayesha Mukherjee at the University of Exeter.